Fundraising an early campaign test for Pawlenty

Former Gov. Pawlenty returns a signed book
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty hands a signed copy of his book "Courage to Stand" to a customer at LifeWay Christian Store in Woodbury, Minn. Pawlenty held a book signing at the religious bookstore on January 18, 2011.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty, who is expected to formally launch a presidential campaign in the next few months, has long made the case that a White House bid could be challenging because he lacks the fame and money of other presidential hopefuls.

Pawlenty, one of many thought to be preparing a run for the Republican nomination, would need tens of millions of dollars to run a campaign and be taken seriously as a candidate.

Though Pawlenty insists he has not made up his mind, you don't have to be a political insider to think he will run for president.

At a recent Minnesota stop on his national book tour, said he's not concerned that coming up with enough money to mount a presidential campaign would be a problem.

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"There's going to be some people in the race that are going to have more money than many other candidates, and I think you've got to have a competitive amount of money," Pawlenty said. "I think history shows you don't have to be the one with the most, but you do have to have enough money to be competitive. And I think we can do that."

Political analysts say Pawlenty has been running what they call an "invisible" campaign for the better part of the past year, traveling the country and making important contacts.

They say if and when Pawlenty makes it official, some of the people the former governor has been cultivating will almost immediately write checks to begin funding a Pawlenty for president campaign.

Tim Pawlenty
Former Gov. Tim Pawlenty signs copies of his book "Courage to Stand" at LifeWay Christian Store in Woodbury, Minn., on January 18, 2011.
MPR Photo/Nikki Tundel

To be taken seriously Pawlenty will need millions of dollars very soon, said Dean Spiliotes, a political scientist and blogger in Concord New Hampshire.

"Whether that's $10 million or $12 million or more remains to be seen," Spiliotes said. "But I think that, given how important money is nowadays in running for president, the days of being considered viable with just a million or two in the bank, I think are pretty much gone."

At this stage in the 2008 presidential election cycle, candidates were amassing tens of million of dollars.

According to Federal Election Commission records, through the first three months of 2007, then-Democratic candidate Barack Obama had raised nearly $26 million while Hillary Clinton had raised $36 million.

Among Republicans, Arizona Sen. John McCain, who eventually on the GOP nomination, had nearly $15 million, while former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney had collected more than $21 million.

But Michael Malbin, executive director of the non-partisan Campaign Finance Institute, does not expect Republicans will come out of the gates with nearly as much early money this time around.

For one thing, the presidency is not open as it was when President George Bush neared the end of his second term. Malbin also said changes in the Republican nominating calendar reduce the need for so much money so early. For example, the Iowa caucuses will be a month later than in 2008, and other changes are designed to reduce the influence of states that hold early contests.

"I mean I think people will still need a lot of money," Malbin said. "I think they will be showing big numbers by June, but they don't feel compelled to show them by March."

Having the most money early by no means guarantees a candidate's success. Just look at Hillary Clinton and Mike Huckabee four years ago.

Clinton came out of the first quarter having raised more than $36 million, but she lost the critical first-test in Iowa to Obama. Huckabee did much better than Romney in Iowa even though Romney had nearly 40 times more money than Huckabee early in the campaign.

The first quarter Federal Election Commission reporting deadline comes at the end of March. If Pawlenty decides to run for president, pushing the launch of his campaign until after that March deadline would buy him more time to build cash in anticipation of the second quarter reporting deadline. That comes at the end of June.